PopSci's Augmented Reality Check: A Q&A With Editorial Director Mark Jannot
Popular Science has been pursuing its mission to deliver "the future now" for more than 130 years. This past summer, that mission meant creating the magazine's first-ever augmented reality cover. Readers were able to hold the cover up to a Web camera while visiting www.popsci.com/imagination to bring a unique 3-D image to life. They then saw wind turbines, which were highlighted in the issue (PopSci's annual "Future of Energy" issue) as an important clean-energy solution, appear on their screen. The 3-D hologram was provided by GE and the technology was powered by Metaio, a San Francisco-based software development company.
Editorial Director Mark Jannot discussed the magazine's first encounter with augmented reality technology, the reaction it stirred from readers, and PopSci's unending pursuit of innovation and creativity.
INBOX: Can you briefly explain how the concept of augmented reality works?
MARK JANNOT: As I understand it, broadly speaking, augmented reality refers to the concept of using digital/computer technology to add an extra layer of content, information or experience to what I suppose we can still get away with calling the real world—i.e., the one on this side of the computer screen. In the specific definition that we're talking about here, it involves holding a physical object up to your computer's Web cam and watching (in the video window on the computer screen) as the thing you're holding comes to life: 3-dimensional, moving dioramas pop out of it; videos start playing on it; that sort of thing. It's basically an ingenious way of creating an entirely fresh, much more tactile way of interacting with your computer—of in some sense erasing the barrier between this side of the screen and the other.
INBOX: How is it applicable to the magazine space?
JANNOT: Used well, it can be a way to take what is normally a two-dimensional medium and adding a nifty layer of texture and surprising, entertaining content to it. It might also serve to help bridge (where appropriate) what can be a surprisingly intractable divide between the physical magazine and enhanced content on the Web. It tends to be rare, at any magazine, for more than 20 percent of the magazine's readership to visit its Web site—ever. Augmented reality makes the connection between the magazine and the computer feel much more concrete and seamless, and can actually be used to trigger what would otherwise be Web features (videos, animated infographics) that normally far fewer magazine readers would bother seeking out. Finally, it's a great way to bring ads to life. There's a huge, appealing novelty aspect to all of this—the challenge, of course, being to find ways to make it more than a gimmick, to make it feel meaningful even once the novelty wears off.